Hawaii’s Thirty Meter Telescope Gets Green Light, But Native Hawaiians Still Protesting Project

On Thursday, Hawaii’s Thirty Meter Telescope got the thumbs-up from state government officials, allowing the $1.4 billion project to potentially join other high-powered telescopes atop Mauna Kea. But with the telescope having long been opposed by Native Hawaiians who want to protect a dormant volcano they consider sacred, reports suggest that protesters are still not giving up on their plans to fight its construction.

As noted by Engadget, the Thirty Meter Telescope has hit several roadblocks along the way, having originally been approved for construction in 2011. This led to a series of protests from Native Hawaiians, as well as a 2015 hacking attempt that temporarily affected the project’s website. In December of that year, the telescope’s construction encountered a major hitch when Hawaii Supreme Court officials nullified its permit, on the grounds that the permit was granted without giving the project’s detractors an official chance to air their grievances.

With Hawaii’s land board having approved the Thirty Meter Telescope’s construction via a 5-2 vote on Thursday, it would seem that everything is once again all-systems-go for what has been hyped as the largest telescope in the world. But a report from the Associated Press (via the Washington Post) suggests that the project’s protesters are still as determined as ever to block construction of the telescope.

“For the Hawaiian people, I have a message: This is our time to rise as a people,” read a statement from protest leader Kahookahi Kanuha.

“This is our time to take back all of the things that we know are ours. All the things that were illegally taken from us.”

The Thirty Meter Telescope’s official website describes the project as one that would allow astronomers to study a variety of objects in and out of our solar system, including galaxies that had formed at the extremities of our universe “near the beginning of time.” Its supporters also believe that the telescope has the potential to provide broader educational and economic opportunities for the people of Hawaii. But even with those possibilities, many Native Hawaiians are adamant that the bigger issue is one of principle – building the Thirty Meter Telescope atop Mauna Kea would be a desecration of what the volcano stands for.

“For years, I carried grief and pain… until I went to the mauna,” said protester Mehana Kihoi, who added that being arrested while praying at Mauna Kea in protest was “one of the most traumatic experiences” of her life.

Still, not all Native Hawaiians are opposed to the Thirty Meter Telescope, including some scientists who believe Mauna Kea’s lack of air and pollution allows for a clearer view of the sky, according to an update to the above AP story posted on the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Richard Ha, a farmer who is in favor of the telescope, was also quoted as saying that protesting the telescope’s construction wouldn’t be “the right battle to fight,” as it might only end up hurting his fellow Native Hawaiians.

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